“Good people don’t smoke marijuana.” Those five words from Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) are perhaps the shortest example one could give of the pervasive influence of the “stoner stigma” in U.S. politics.
Senators on the Caucus on International Narcotics Control met in a hearing on Tuesday to discuss how the Department of Justice is monitoring the effects of cannabis legalization in states like Colorado and Washington.
At the hearing, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) bemoaned in front of colleagues that years of work “trying to send that message with clarity that good people don’t smoke marijuana” hasn’t resonated.
Senator Jeff Sessions sure thinks a good number of Americans are bad people, then. According to a Gallup survey taken in summer 2015, 44 percent of the U.S. population has tried cannabis, while 11 percent admit to being regular users.
To be fair, Senator Jeff Sessions has a long history of vehemently opposing cannabis, even if the facts aren’t on his side.
He’s also cited Lady Gaga’s professed “addiction” to cannabis as proof of the drug’s adverse consequences on America’s health.
“Well, Lady Gaga said she is addicted to it, and it is not harmless. She’s been addicted to it,” Sessions said during a hearing. “I just think it’s a huge issue. I hope that you will talk with the president, you’re close with him, and begin to push back, or pull back, on this position that I think is going to be adverse to the health of America.”
But Sessions isn’t alone. He’s part of a kind of anti-pot vanguard in the government, dedicated to challenging federal legalization of cannabis at every turn.
Tuesday’s hearing, called by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), was criticized by marijuana reform advocates for serving as little more than a forum for the two oldest members of the Senate and those who think like them to reiterate their anti-marijuana views.
But with long-prevailing attitudes beginning to change thanks to the success of legal, regulated medical cannabis industry, fewer and fewer lawmakers are paying much heed to these lone voices against history.
The problem is that anti-cannabis crusaders continue to draw on support from outdated science, misleading or misrepresented data, and fears grounded in centuries-old prejudices.
When arguing, for example, that cannabis is a dangerous “gateway drug,” a convenient narrative that’s been around since the War on Drugs, few people question it.
So while a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control did find that people who abuse cannabis are much more likely also to be addicted to heroin, it also found that alcohol abuse and prescription pill abuse are “gateways” to heroin, too.
In fact, as other research points out, alcohol is the real gateway drug, as its often the first mood-altering substance teens try.
There’s simply no solid evidentiary basis for the claims made by anti-cannabis groups. So they rely on the last remaining vestiges of stoner stigma to make their case.
Changing that stigma is still one of the biggest battles to be won in the fight for legal cannabis in the United States.